BLUEBERRY Academy is preparing to make Christmas shopping that little bit more creative in York.
Supporting Learning and Employment Services for adults with learning difficulties, the Academy’s curriculum ensures creativity leads to items being available to buy not only at Blueberry Pop Up Shop on Micklegate, but also at two high-profile events.
Namely, the Pop Up Christmas Market at Homestead Park, Water End, tomorrow (27/11/2021) and Blueberry Academy Christmas Fayre at Melbourne Centre, Escrick Street, on Wednesday (1/12/2021), both from 11am to 3pm.
Blueberry Academy has partnered with New Visuality director Greg McGee to help give the creativity a boost. “Blueberry Academy and their staff do such a great job that I found I didn’t have to do much,” he says.
“The timing was convenient, in that New Visuality’s project, Our Style, funded by an award from the National Lottery Community Fund, is up and running.
“In this project, we’re looking at how fashion depends on someone else’s ideas of beauty, but style comes from within and strengthens inner confidence. The Blueberry Academy Fair was a perfect place to get started.”
Available to buy at the Pop Up Market and Christmas Fair will be snoods, candles, paintings and prints, all created by people who are working towards greater independence and confidence.
Blueberry learner and Christmas Fair participant Louisa Atkinson says: “I’ve really enjoyed being creative in this project and learning the necessary skills. I’m excited to see what the public thinks.
“These events are a good opportunity for not only our friends and family but members of the public to come and see what Blueberry Academy does best.”
Greg is philosophical about how events like these can change the way shoppers think at this time of year. “By this time next week, I shall have completed all of my Christmas shopping, and all of it will have come from the Pop Up Market or the Christmas Fair,” he says.
“Not only is it a chance to redefine Christmas shopping as an opportunity to get away from the crowds and the mainstream, and not only are you buying genuinely desirable and beautifully finished items, but you can directly help a whole cohort of people get their craft out there too. Shopping doesn’t have to be stressful; it can be magical.”
ARCHITECTURE is the focus of Angus Vasili’s Optimism and Brutalism exhibition at According To McGee, York.
“Since the first Lockdown we found that nature does more than heal,” says Greg McGee, the Tower Street gallery’s co-director. “It can provoke and galvanise, and a lot of that energy can be found in the new seascapes or moorscapes that collectors have been buying or commissioning.
“We’ve had more collectors asking about cityscapes and depictions of architecture; something about the definition of hard angles and the certainty of edges is chiming with tastes. We thought it was about time we gave Angus Vasili a ring – and that’s how this Optimism and Brutalism show came about.”
The McGees are of the mind that Brutalism’s reputation is in need of rehabilitation. “It goes beyond subjective opinions,” says co-director Ails McGee. “These buildings were once loved for their linear honesty but now they’re often derided. Vasili pulls them out from ‘Architectural Cancel Culture’ and to re-evaluate them.”
By using titles such as Central Hall, Hayward Gallery and JB Morrell Library, Vasili’s latest collection gives an idiosyncratic overview of Brutalism’s greatest hits.
“They are more than mere portraits of their stark subject matter,” says Greg. “His silkscreens are at heart playful experiments. There are blushes of hot colour, dancing, broken lines, white slices of negative space deliberately alone.
“These come from a love of the process and the accidents it throws up, as much as the focused observation of a building style that most people think leaves no room for flexibility.”
Angus explains: “My fascination with concrete, industrial landscapes and what I recently came to know as ‘brutalism’ has triggered this series of screenprints. I’m combining photography, texture and printmaking to create a raw aesthetic that resonates with the fundamental material of brutalism.
“I use a combination of bold colour and texture to help convey the optimism that these architects strived to achieve with this period of architecture.’’
Optimism and Brutalism will be on show in According To McGee’s front room until November 14. “It’s a sharp reminder that there’s room for more than ancient history in York,” says Greg. “There have been calls to demolish York’s Stonebow and replace it with faux Georgian gentility, which would be even more irksome, because of its sleight of hand.
“We’re opposite Clifford’s Tower, arguably York’s most famous landmark. We can see for ourselves how Vasili’s art contributes to the discussion of York’s architectural continuum, and we’re finding that our clients and collectors are in agreement.”
Gallery opening hours are: Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm; Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, or by appointment on 07973 653702. For more information on Angus Vasili, go to: accordingtomcgee.com/collections/angus-vasili.
ACCORDING To McGee’s campaign to “alleviate anxiety caused by uncertain times” gathers pace with the duo exhibition Colour & Ceramics at the ever-revolving gallery in Tower Street, York.
No sooner has she launched her own collection Affirmations, in celebration of the reviving powers of tea, than artist and gallerist Ails McGee has curated a new show by Simon Crawford and David Austin Duckworth for the front gallery opposite Clifford’s Tower.
“Colour is underrated in Britain,” she says. “After 19 months of relentless bad news online and in the papers, it’s sometimes an obligation for creatives to stop reflecting the anger of the times and instead try and find a little optimism. That’s why there’s such an explosion of colour here at the moment.”
Colour & Ceramics sees the launch tomorrow of new collections from painter Simon Crawford and painter and ceramicist David Austin Duckworth, on the back of Crawford’s return from a trip to India.
“This has provided a portal into the theme of the exhibition,” says gallery co-director Greg McGee. “Simon’s art has been exhibited internationally, with shows in Moscow and, a little closer to home, at the Dean Clough galleries in Halifax, helping give this collection an extra heft and pull for collectors across the UK.
“But it’s also the fact Simon travels and soaks up his experiences with such obvious wonder and gratitude that imbues his paintings with such ripples of light and dark.
“To hear him talk of watching the Indian jungle come to life from his train window in the red light of the evening is thrilling, and then to hear him talk of how Covid-19 has decimated the shanty towns of Amritsar and Mumbai is a reminder that recent history has been a nightmare for millions of people.
“Art is never going to fix these problems, but it can be a hammer we can use to help shape our response. In this case, it’s a very colourful hammer.”
Crawford has brought back to his North Yorkshire studio a new appreciation of colour and energy, even filtering his depictions of North Yorkshire’s Whinny Bank at Rievaulx through the conduit of a Punjabi palette.
Looking forward to exhibiting at According To McGee, he says: “The concept is a brilliant one from the gallery: brightening these rather grim days through colour.
“India is visually explosive and an eyes-out-on-stalks experience. A love affair was ignited by the intensity of the Indian palette. This show will set the visual taste buds tingling as the English autumn approaches.
“My work takes you on a journey through the Rajasthan landscape of pink saris against pale green and yellow mustard fields. India made me reimagine my vision of the English landscape.”
Complementing Crawford’s vivid compositions, fellow Knaresborough artist David Austin Duckworth continues his Cornwall Inspired collection in celebration of the elements, especially those found in Cornwall.
“Not all of us managed to get to Cornwall this summer, so experiencing David’s artwork is the next best thing. David’s paintings are alive with light and turquoise seas, and his Raku-fired ceramics ache with how precious nature is. Simon and David work well together, and it is a duality we’d like to continue to exhibit.”
Greg concludes: “We’re excited! There’s a whole load of reasons for people to visit York city centre; we like to think that contemporary art is increasingly up there at the top of the list.”
Simon Crawford & David Austin Duckworth: Colour & Ceramics runs at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from October 7 to 21; open daily, 12 noon to 5pm, except Sundays, or by appointment on 07973 653702.
EVERYTHING starts with tea for York artist and According To McGee co-director Ails McGee.
Key to Ails’ latest artistic development is the scale and quality of this city’s tea shops. “After a while, you need to reach for something that isn’t wine,” she says. “And we’re very well looked after by tea havens such as Tullivers, Hebden Tea and Tea Palace.
“But it’s not just the tea. There are these little affirmations that are attached with string to the tea bags and they’re wonderful. Such a simple little morning ritual has become like a prayer for me, especially at this time of chaos, and that serenity has most definitely fed into my new collection of paintings.”
Why has everything stopped for tea in this preamble? Because gallerist Ails has picked up the paint brushes once more to bring her Affirmations to the ongoing Return Of The Painter series at the McGees’ gallery in Tower Street, York.
Before establishing According To McGee with husband and business partner Greg in 2004, Ails was a successful painter, exhibiting in her native Kelso in the Scottish Borders and around Yorkshire.
Bringing up three children, together with gallery and charity commitments, meant the brushes were lain to rest until the “parsimonious proposals from politicians on essential exercise” for Lockdown 1 prompted her to go back to the drawing board.
The Return of the Mc went so well that her “comeback” show of North Eastern seascapes sold out in a day in July last year as the ebullient Tower Street art space welcomed browsers for the first time since the Covid-enforced shutdown on March 23.
Now, in the wake of Return Of The Painter: The Sea, The Sky, The City, Ails has turned her attention to all things “hygge” [the Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of cosiness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment].
Cue her latest collection, all semi-abstract compositions of teacups and vases, bearing such titles as Come Home: All Is Well And I Am Safe, My Day Begins And Ends With Gratitude, I Am Connected To My Power Centre, Find The People Who Make You Feel Like Sunshine, I Allow Myself To Play And Be Silly and As I Return To The Shore I Feel Braver Than I Did Before.
That’s some departure from your depictions of the North Sea, Ails? “The subject matter is different but the theme is the same. These paintings are celebrations of optimism and positivity at dark times,” she says of her works inspired by affirmations, colours, pebbles, textures and, yes, those reviving cups of tea.
“It’s just that, rather than the light on the horizon, they find hope in the straightforward act of making a pot of tea or living with simplicity and without clutter.”
Managing the gallery and producing new collections of painting has “never been easier” for Ails. “The daily pause that comes with enjoying Yogi tea and following the guidance provided on the actual tea boxes has led to a more relaxed mindfulness. That is most certainly true,” says Ails.
“But I’m a businesswoman too, so it’s very gratifying to see such successful sales. Private collectors snapped up the first wave of paintings. The second wave has gone to The Backyard, in a commission, which is hugely exciting to be part of something so visually stunning.”
What and where is The Backyard, Ails? “The Backyard, or Bakgardurrin in Icelandic, is a holiday let in Heworth, managed by Gudbjorg Halldorsdottir as an Icelandic retreat for visitors from Iceland and elsewhere,” she says.
“The commission caught my imagination and allowed me to align my new passions: Affirmations, Art, Tea, all displayed in a location curated with genuine northern hygge and with such taste.
“The art looks perfectly placed and is available to buy for visiting guests. It’s an honour to be able to provide such souvenirs for visitors to York.”
Gudbjorg says: “The idea of running a luxury holiday let in York has been brewing in my mind for a while. As an Icelander, I’ve been living in York for three years. I feel passionate about spreading the word and enabling as many as possible to experience this wonderful city.
“When the opportunity to buy a new-built house in our backyard emerged, I wanted to explore the possibility of collaborating with local people and businesses in York.”
As a lover of art, she was keen to add “something special” to the house and to work with York artists to display their work in The Backyard.
“My partner and I have been lucky to get to know the lovely Greg and Ails McGee. I noticed that Ails had a beautiful collection of small pieces. Her work was exactly what I was looking for,” she says.
“I hope that my guests at The Backyard will enjoy the artwork and take the opportunity to purchase a piece as a perfect souvenir of their stay.”
Ails is enjoying painting a new collection to meet demand from new clients. “Affirmations, as a collection, has definitely struck a chord and I feel I’m onto something positive at a time when things have been so tough.
“If an artist can feel vindicated by the support of visionaries such as Gudbjorg and new collectors, then I am indeed blessed.”
Yes, it’s time for Affirmations, a browse and maybe a brew at According To McGee, open Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm, Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, or by appointment on 07973 653702.
ACCORDING To McGee reopens its York doors this weekend to the biggest paintings that the Tower Street gallery has ever exhibited.
York painter Freya Horsley’s solo show, Contemporary Seascapes, launches on Saturday morning in a bold statement of her artistic practice.
“These aren’t only the biggest paintings we’ve exhibited, they’re the biggest commercial paintings in the UK”, says a laughing gallery co-director Ails McGee.
“Freya has created a stunning collection. The size is not a gimmick. Combined with her evolving compositions and palette on both her large-scale pieces and her smaller works, it’s a confident demonstration of where she is as a painter, at the top of her game, and selling to collectors from all over the world.”
According To McGee’s front room will be displaying the new series, a mixture of seascape paintings depicting the Cornish, Scottish and North East coastlines, including the two large mixed-media works on canvas, Liquid Light and Turning Tide, each priced at £4,500.
Co-director Greg McGee points to the “integral optimism” of these new works. “It’s been a rough time for everybody. Loss and loneliness have been a steady drizzle on life for over a year, but things are slowly clicking back into gear, and I can’t think of a better way to reflect that than through beautiful paintings of the sea,” he says.
“There’s restlessness, depths, and enough luminosity to help hammer home our message as gallery curators at this time: nature can heal. Because of that, Freya’s art connects with collectors internationally.”
Greg delights in pointing out that Freya is the only artist with whom he has appeared on the Beeb. When BBC One’s Best House In Town featured York in its inaugural series in February 2019, Greg was among the five judges, and Freya’s art was instantly recognisable in one of the houses.
“Her art makes you look twice because it has a calming quality and, like a good sunrise, it makes you go ‘wow!’,” he says. “That came across very powerfully on TV. We have clients who watched the show in Dubai who got in touch, saying ‘I’m watching in Burj Khalifa the guy who sells me paintings and the art I like to collect most’.
“It was a very good showboat for York. We’re glad that we’re still here to celebrate the increasingly powerful art of one of Yorkshire’s most collectable painters.”
Freya Horsley’s Contemporary Seascapes exhibition runs at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from September 11 to October 11. Gallery opening hours are: Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm; Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, or by appointment on 07973 653702.
HOPE springs nocturnal in a collaboration between young artists from York and around the world at According To McGee from May 19.
Under the title of Hope, the artwork will be on display in light projections in the window of the Tower Street gallery.
Originated by Viborg UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts, the project has been brought to York by Chris Bailey, clerk of York’s Guild of Media Arts, via REACH, the Cultural Education Partnership for the city.
Primary schools jumped at the chance to be involved in a creative response to the pandemic that, mirroring the Coronavirus, has travelled around the world, inspiring thousands of children from China to Mexico.
Chris enthuses: “This project is exactly what York’s UNESCO designation is all about, responding creatively to the challenges we all face, joining forces with other ‘Creative Cities’ and encouraging the next generation of creative leaders.
“I hope that, once this dreadful virus is just a memory, the relationships these young people have built with children in other countries will continue to thrive.”
Gallery co-director Greg McGee says: “Chris e-introduced me to Henrik Holmskov, from Viborg, and the project just sounded so optimistic and creative, just what we all needed at this time. The idea of opening it up to participants from all over York made perfect sense and was instantly met with enthusiasm.
“Our charity, New Visuality, had been wrapping up projects funded by York wards Heworth Without, Dringhouses and Woodthorpe, Guildhall, Rawcliffe and Clifton Without, and for the young people from these areas to now see their artwork projected in a city-centre gallery is a huge boost.”
Here comes the science bit: “The window projections will be based around carefully curated events using the newly released platform ‘SuS’, a smart solution to publishing artwork to a pool of digital screens from anywhere using mobile or desktop devices from SplashBY,” explains Greg.
SplashBY founder Pritpal Rehal chips in: “I’m more than happy to facilitate and play a small part in this global project to promote artistic creativity of Hope for all to see.”
Here comes the Maths part: “The evenings will feature projections of 350 artworks selected from all 3,000 images from cities in 33 countries around the world,” reveals Greg.
Digital artist Nick Walters is delighted to be linking up with the McGee gallery and New Visuality again for Hope after his installations for York Mediale and York Design Week.
“The location of the window is so iconic, directly opposite Clifford’s Tower,” he says. “I like the looser time-frame to this project and I’m looking forward to showing the illuminated artworks, perhaps alternating the transparency of the sheets, tweaking how long the images will flicker on screens.
“It’s a good chance for us to show passers-by what York does well, which is fuse creativity with innovative technology.”
The Hope projections will launch on Wednesday, May 19 and continue on May 20 and 21, then run on Wednesday to Friday for the next two weeks at 6pm to 9pm each night.
DAVID Finnigan and Peter Davis will launch According To McGee’s focus on contemporary artwork in 2021 with a joint show from January 8.
“We see the pending challenges of the new year as an opportunity to refocus our ambition to provide crucial contemporary painting for collectors from all over the UK,” says Greg McGee, co-owner of the Tower Street art-space in York.
“We are a gallery that champions painting and the skill set and specific cultural heft that comes with it.”
Greg and co-owner Ails McGee “never got over our mid-Nineties education as art students”. “We were told by professors that painting as a medium was dead,” he recalls.
“It was ‘bourgeois’, ‘patriarchal’, ‘colonial’ and ‘irrelevant’, when exhibited alongside its shinier competitors: performance art, installation art, light projections and conceptual art.
“Twenty-five years later, and here we are, directing a commercial, independent art gallery. We see everyday close-up just how crucial painting is to culture and the creative industries. It’s painting that people want, and it’s never going to go out of fashion.”
Outlining the McGees’ outlook for 2021, Ails says: “We thought if we we’re going to get the foot in the door of 2021, we’d better come accompanied with painters who reflect the confidence of us going forward to thrive as a gallery in the ‘new normal’. So, we’re honoured to bring to York the painters David Finnigan and Peter Davis.”
Greg rejoins: “Both push paint around with the panache of Nureyev. This is ground-breaking work by any standard. What’s interesting is they both prioritise a realistic element. It’s not photorealism, as such, but a vision and a precise draughtsmanship that most artists would kill for.
“Contemporary painting is one of the few genres that have been democratised to the point of silliness. A perfectly executed painting is not a relic of the patriarchy. Spilling half a pint of acrylic from hip height on a canvas is not liberating because it deconstructs Western hegemony.
“At best, it’s creative, but it’s not art. Painting demands a zeal and a focused work ethic just as much as ballet or singing opera does. David and Peter and their respective collections showcase that better than any other painter we know and are perfect for our Contemporary Painting In 2021 series.”
The McGees are intrigued by Finnigan’s work not fitting into any pigeonhole. “It’s not just photorealism, where the paint simply does the job of a camera, but a whole lot slower,” says Ails.
“He observes his subject and then begins a process we as a gallery have seen only David execute. He breaks what he sees down into components, exaggerating certain aspects while retaining the realism of others. It’s a unique, idiosyncratic dedication to harnessing his own vision.”
David explains: “Although, in recent years, my paintings have been rooted in the traditions of photorealism painting, I’m now beginning to subvert the idea of a painted version of a photograph by ‘breaking up’ or modulating the picture plane to add new dimensions via careful and intuitive use of colour and graphical composition.
“I feel my work now has more of an affinity with the ‘Precisionists’ rather than the ‘Photorealists’.”
Finnigan, by the way, is working on a new smaller painting and developing ideas for the next few in his new series. “These will share the same visual concept that the work I’ve brought to According To McGee has,” he says. “Namely, subverting the surface detail of ‘the reality’ and forcing the issue of colour foremost, by adding a new layer of composition.”
Finnigan’s paintings sit well alongside the latest collection from Manchester artist Peter Davis, who is a member of the Contemporary British Portrait Painters and an elected council member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts.
“This is truly a solid duo exhibition,” says Greg. “Peter is recognised by the industry and serious collectors as one of the most important social realist painters in the UK.
“Normally, he focuses on figures dimly lit by their own absorption in their personal technology, but this series is different: Peter has produced a collection, Living History and Technology in York, especially for According To McGee.”
The McGees see Davis’s new work as a natural dovetail with the art of David Finnigan, as well as with their gallery’s mission statement. “We’re a contemporary art gallery in a city known for its history,” says Ails.
“There are loads of edgy, innovative aspects to York that sometimes don’t get noticed as much as they should. As awesome as heritage is, York is also shot through with what we call ‘Living History’. This is an opportunity for collectors to add art that reflects just that to their collection.”
Peter says of his new York collection: “Living History and Technology in York is part of a new urban realist series capturing contemporary stories of people in everyday life, technology in hand.
“These three paintings feature the old Rowntree’s factory on Haxby Road and are set in different parts of the building. I really liked the idea of capturing this York landmark before it’s redeveloped.”
As the changeover of calendars fast approaches, Greg looks back on a year in the unrelenting grip of the Coronavirus pandemic. “Yet 2020 still turned into the utopia I initially envisaged,” he says.
“In the shadow of the pandemic, I assumed fractures and tribalism would coagulate: it’s hard to argue about politics in the pub when there’s a plague outside stalking the streets.
“But what happened instead was the noisiest, angriest year I have ever seen, which, conversely led to huge sales of impressionistic seascapes. The bitter beauty of dark seas, offset by just enough light on the horizon, became a refuge of many of our clients.
“So much so that Ails, my wife and business partner, felt encouraged to return to the studio to pick up the paintbrush. Her collection sold out and we look forward to exhibiting the next collection in 2021.”
Ails is confident 2021 will provide a clearer pathway for creative talents on every level. “After a year where the dominant theme has been uncertainty, creative people are rolling up their sleeves and identifying where they want to be at a given point. We are no different,” she says.
“For a while, as a gallery, we spent maybe a little too much time trying to reinvent ourselves with electronic art, video art, sound art and concepts. Believe me, that stuff is as boring to curate as it is to view.
“We’re a gallery that celebrates contemporary painting, and it’s for that reason that we’re preparing for our 17th anniversary as our most successful year yet. That’s a bold claim, but we have the art of David Finnigan and Peter Davis to launch. This is about as good as it gets.”
Contemporary Painting in 2021: David Finnigan and Peter Davis runs at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from January 8 to February 14 2021. “We’ll be open, Covid-compliant, with no gatherings,” says Greg McGee, in the light of York’s Tier 3 status from December 31.
ACCORDING To McGee, in York, reopens on Saturday with the salty rush of David Baumforth’s new Winter seascapes.
A regular breath of seaside air at the Tower Street gallery, Baumforth’s work depicts the places he loves: the North, its coastline and hinterland.
After handing over the front gallery to York cityscape artist Richard Barnes for Lockdown: The Sequel’s innovative Window Shopping Exhibition, this forthcoming weekend is a tribute to fellow gallery favourite Baumforth, the York-born son of a turner and fitter at British Rail and a packer at Terry’s chocolate factory.
In a long career where he has won the Not The Turner Art Prize, exhibited at London’s Royal Watercolour Society Opens and Royal Academy Summer Shows and received the acclaim of TV art critic Sister Wendy, Baumforth once more embraces his Yorkshire coast and moorland muse for Winter in the latest burst of creativity from his Snainton studio near Scarborough.
Gallery co-director Ails McGee is delighted to see Baumforth retain his title as the “Turner of the North”. “This collection is indicative of a painter who, far from resting on his laurels, continues to blossom. The marks are fierce, even as he captures the last rays of light on winter trees,” she says.
“Most graduates we work with have admitted that they would give their left arm to paint like David Baumforth, which is vindication enough. The pre-exhibition sales that are coming in are also a welcome seal of approval.”
David, now 78, says: “It feels right to be exhibiting in a solo show in York at this stage of my career. My style may have slightly changed, but I’m not interested in gimmicks. The Yorkshire moors and its coastline are a constant source of inspiration for me. I’m happy with my work, so I feel no need for change.
“I’d rather exhibit them in According To McGee than anywhere else as they have a good feeling for good paintings and have done so for some time.”
Ails points to the modern energy of Baumforth’s Winter depictions. “There’s something crucial, like he has something to prove,” she says. “He has always had a reputation of being irascible, but all that has mellowed out now, and whatever bristling, visionary impatience he had is now manifest in his paintings. It is painting that has brought him this far and we are at a fascinating juncture in his career.”
Ails is alluding to 2021’s landmark summer event: David Baumforth: The Final Exhibition. “David is working towards a collection that is in essence a victory lap for a painter who has redefined what it is to depict York and Yorkshire,” she reveals.
“This Winter collection is a forerunner of that, and what we have here available for purchase reveals some very interesting directions David is going in. He has complete control over his vision and style and his work is simply becoming more desirable because of that.”
Co-director Greg McGee is fully recharged for Saturday’s bracing reopening. “2020 has been a turbulent year. Though we have been forced to close our doors in the two lockdowns, our clients have remained loyal and have either contacted us after peeking through our front window or have made purchases through our site.
“That aspect has been fine but, ultimately, we are a contemporary gallery and you can’t beat the energy of opening the door and allowing browsers to enjoy the new collections from excellent artists. That’s why Saturday is so important to us.”
David Baumforth: Winter runs at According To McGee, Tower Street, York, from Saturday, 12 noon to 5pm, daily until Christmas. The gallery also is open by appointment on 01904 671709.
ACCORDING To McGee is still putting art in the shop window despite the here-we-go-again impact of Lockdown 2.
“Culture is in quarantine, but collecting great art continues,” says Greg McGee, co-director of the distinctive yellow-fronted gallery in Tower Street, York.
”And if the doors have to close then we’ll use our window to sell our paintings. It’s opposite Clifford’s Tower – we get a lot of footfall – and it’s huge.”
Lockdown: The Sequel has prompted Greg and co-director Ails McGee to launch the Window Shopping series of exhibitions, kicking off with According To McGee’s biggest-selling artist, Richard Barnes, former head of art at Bootham School.
“Famed for his man-sized portraits of York, Richard’s latest collection, York And God’s Own County, has some of the largest cityscapes and landmarks he has ever produced,” says a delighted Greg.
Window Shopping’s modus operandi addresses the necessity of locked-down galleries displaying their wares explicitly in the window space and making as much use of the wall space viewable from that vantage point as possible.
“I don’t think it’s a skill taught in curatorial lessons at art college, but these are strange times. ” says co-director Ails. “I organised with Richard a socially distanced drop-off of 15 new paintings, created at his garden studio.
“I was blown away by the quality of the new collection. He has always had a muscular, mischievous approach to composition and colour schemes, but these are stand-out works that show him at the top of his game.
“I have filled the front gallery with his work, from floor to ceiling, and we have already made pre-exhibition sales. Not very minimal or a traditional art gallery approach, but the energy is unmistakable. Window shopping works.”
Richard, who lives in Huntington Road, had done some “window showmanship” of his own in the lead-up to this show. “The paintings I love most hit me in the gut and hit me in my soul,” he says.
“During [the first] lockdown, I exhibited the paintings I was making on the back of my studio, so people using the river path opposite could see them. Somehow the job of making paintings that might hit someone somewhere, or even just give them a bit of pleasure, seemed very worthwhile.
“The new set of paintings at According To McGee are those that people commented on most during those tense lockdown months.”
Richard also became involved in a project to create a huge painting for the new mental health hospital for York being built a little further along the Foss river path [the now opened Foss Bank Hospital in Haxby Road].
“The smaller landscapes in the new exhibition are experiments with light and space that I used to inspire the largest landscape I have ever painted and am still working on,” he says.
Barnes’s work has been a building block of According To McGee ever since the gallery launched 16 years ago. “It is especially pertinent this winter,” says Greg. “I’m honoured to act as the art advisor for the internationally well-regarded poetry zine, Dream Catcher, whose December issue features the art of Richard Barnes exclusively, so this show chimes with that nicely.”
Casting an eye over the new works, Ails says: “Richard has always painted with the risk-taking energy of an excellent painter in his 20s, but there’s a stronger, fiercer element to this collection.
“Maybe he has rediscovered a latent aggression, or mischief, or maybe it’s Lockdown. Either way, these paintings depict York as a modern city and the North York Moors as a location for contemporary landscapes better than any collection on the market. Come look through our gallery window and see for yourself.”
It is no secret that Richard, who has painted ceaselessly since the 1980s, will be bidding farewell York in the months ahead, selling both his studio and house. “Although I am leaving York and Yorkshire, I really hope I will continue my relationship with painting York and According To McGee,” he says.
“I want to thank Greg and Ails for supporting me and many other northern artists. What I have loved most about working with them is their attitude of ‘Why not?’.”
Watch out for news of his York Farewell Show at According To McGee in 2021. In the meantime, whether out exercising or shopping, take a breather in Tower Street to peruse Window Shopping: Richard Barnes, York and God’s Own County; expansive, bold and inviting eye contact behind glass until December 1.
MAIJA Blåfield’s aptly named The Fantastic has won the Best of Fest at the 2020 tenth anniversary online edition of the Aesthetica Short Film Festival.
More than 300 films competed for the awards in the BAFTA Recognised festival in York, ranging from poignant documentaries that tap into the climate crisis to touching dramas about loss and forgiveness.
At Sunday evening’s close of the six-day festival, the live-streamed awards ceremony was hosted by regular master of ceremonies Greg McGee, following the judging by experts from Film4, BFI Network, ICA London and Nowness.
Winning awards at ASFF can bolster the success of the stand-out films, as shown by past winners going to receive Oscars, such as Chris Overton’s sweet-natured The Silent Child and Benjamin Cleary’s Stutterer.
Keep an eye out for The Fantastic after Maija Blåfield’s film garnered both the Best of Fest and Best Documentary awards. In this short, eight former North Koreans discuss illegal foreign movies they watched in their homeland. How did they imagine the reality based on fictional films? The Fantastic is not about North Korea, Blåfield says.
Further awards went to:
Hijack Visionary Filmmaker Award
Thinking About The Weather, directed by Gardar Thor Thorkelsson
DESPERATE to resolve his anxieties about the looming climate apocalypse, the filmmaker embarks on an odyssey around Britain, speaking to coastal inhabitants resting on a rising coastline, as well as Extinction Rebellion protestors.
Safe Water, directed by Mario Dahl
A GIRLl walks right to the edge of the board, breathing deeply, ready to make the biggest jump of her life, but what awaits her down there? Safe water is more important than ever.
The Passerby, directed by Pieter Coudyzer
ON a summer’s day, the paths of two boys cross unexpectedly. The Passerby considers what happens when two lives become intertwined and the possibilities emerge of a new journey together.
Best Artists’ Film
Factory Talk, directed by Lucie Rachel and Chrissie Hyde
FACTORY Talk is an intergenerational conversation about identity, sexuality and masculinity. Through the clanging of metal, they make small talk, but the dialogue turns away from mere nostalgia.
Maradona’s Legs, directed by Firas Khoury
DURING the 1990 World Cup, two Palestinian boys are looking for Maradona’s Legs: the last missing sticker they need to complete their World Cup album and win a free Atari.
The Conversation, directed by Lanre Malaolu
THROUGH a dynamic fusion of movement and dialogue, The Conversation explores the challenges black people experience when communicating their racial experience to white partners.
The Present, directed by Farah Nabulsi
ON his wedding anniversary, Yusef and his daughter Yasmine set out to the West Bank to buy a gift. Between the soldiers, roads and checkpoints, how easy is it really to go shopping?
Softer, directed by Ayanna Dozier
DOZIER examines the demands that black women’s bodies be made “softer” – be that in their voice, manners, or, critically, their hair. This experimental short plays on grooming rituals.
Baba, directed by Sarah Blok and Lisa Konno
A COMBINATION of design and documentary, blending elements of truth, fiction and constructed narrative. Baba provides a surreal but nonetheless light-hearted portrait of a Turkish immigrant.
Best Music Video
Adventure, directed by Zak Marx
ADVENTURE explores the world of competitive moto-racing in finely textured, surreal miniature. It follows the #2 rider as he ruminates in the shadows of world champion Jammin’ Jackie Hudson.
Night Bus, directed by Jessica Ashworth and Henrietta Ashworth
DRIVING through the nocturnal streets of London on the eve of her 30th birthday, a night-bus driver discovers a supernatural entity who has boarded her vehicle and threatens to stay.
Best 360 Film
VR Free, directed by Milad Tangshir
VR Free explores the nature of incarceration while capturing the intimate reactions of inmates as they encounter virtual reality and immersive videos of life outside of prison.
Best Feature – Documentary
Neighbors, directed by Tomislav Zaja
AN observational documentary about people who experience mental illness but are leaving their institution after decades spent in isolation. Zaja’s film follows the individuals as they venture out into the big unknown.
Best Feature – Narrative
How To Stop A Recurring Dream, directed by Edward Morris
FACED with a split custody break up, a family’s older daughter kidnaps her hostile sister in order to embark on a journey and reconnect before they are forced to part. Shot in and around locations pertinent to the director’s childhood.
York Youth Award
Talia, directed by Cara Bamford
TALIA loves nature. She’s always looking for new ways to slip out of the house, exploring the world beyond her front garden. But after being caught, her father forbids her to leave without permission.
One award is yet to decided: Festival Pass Holders can vote for the People’s Choice Award until November 30. To do so, they must choose their favourite film by clicking the “Vote Now” button within each ASFF programme.
In her closing speech on Sunday, ASFF director Cherie Federico said: “I am so pleased with the films this year: they are talking about topics that are so important to me, as a person, a mother, a friend…a festival director.
“Equality. It’s just one word but, for me, it is the most important word in all languages. It means that the world has equilibrium and that we are joined rather than divided.
“There is only one future and one way out of this pandemic and that is it: we just break down all barriers and remember we are one. This is our time, right now on Planet Earth. It’s incredibly powerful when you digest it.”
American Cherie, a New Yorker who crossed the Big Pond to study at York St John University and never left York, turned her thoughts to the fractious US election. “I didn’t realise how much Trump’s presidency affected me until Biden won. I cried. It was an overwhelming sense of relief that we could turn a corner, we could end a fascist regime masquerading as a democracy.
“We could overcome all the injustices, racism and prejudice. I am be proud of who I am and where I come from again.”
Cherie continued: “I cannot even begin to explain how this makes me feel. We were heading somewhere that mirrored 1930s’ Europe and I found it terrifying. It would keep me awake at night.
“I am so very grateful that the hate will now end. I know it’s just the beginning because you can’t undo some of that which has been done, but we can try and that gives me hope.”
Returning to matters ASFF, Cherie had wanted to host a street party in York to mark the tenth anniversary. “Instead, it’s me in my office by myself, but I know that you are there and have been enjoying our masterclasses, film programmes and everything that is on offer,” she said after Covid-19 enforced the online edition. All of those session are On Demand until the end of the month.”
Looking ahead to ASFF 11, Cherie signed off: “Until 2021, when we can hug, kiss, dance and laugh in the streets! We must all come together in person and celebrate equality, creativity and diversity.”
Greg McGee, ever lyrical co-owner of According To McGee, hosted the live-streamed awards ceremony from his Tower Street gallery.
Introducing the event, he said: “This year, the pandemic has subordinated everything in its path. Most of the consequences have been dreadful. Some have been tentatively positive and conversely more human.
“Nowhere else has that been more explicit than cinema. It’s your creativity and new narratives that are making life in Lockdown bearable. In terms of quality, this has been the best ASFF yet, and never has it been more crucial or vital.”
Greg continued: “The tenth-year anniversary is not the Great Gatsby party we would have liked, but the films themselves vindicate what has been a decade of evolving, striving quality. “One of the most sensitive litmus tests of any genre is how well it exports. There are approximately 50 countries represented in this year’s ASFF, such as USA, Canada, Australia, Israel, Lebanon, France, Spain, Denmark, China.
“Every one of the films have connected and have lost none of their power through the intimacy of being watched at home. This year’s festival has really shown us the power of modern film, and how it can sensitise us, change us, enhance us, or quicken the beat of your heart, and I have to say nowhere is that more elegantly distilled than in Aesthetica Short Film Festival. Here’s to the next 10 years.”
Addressing the online audience of film-makers and film industry personnel, Greg concluded: “If anyone is going to successfully bequeath a multi-faceted celebration of culture, cinema and, ultimately, optimism, it’s ASFF, and it’s you, of course, with your hard work and your vision that provides the building blocks upon which this global event can continue to thrive.
“Here’s to ASFF21. The 11th one will be the biggest one. Slainte! Salute! And ba-da-bing.”